Feedback Thread: Bringing Shahrazad to Modern

Discussion in 'General CPA Stuff' started by Spiderman, Nov 13, 2017.

  1. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    The article is here, discuss away!
  2. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    One potentially non-obvious deck interaction I should mention:

    If Sway of the Stars has already been cast, setting each player life total to 7, then as early as turn 3 after each reshuffle, this deck can Bolt an opponent before swinging with Wildfire Eternal. This forces an interesting question - "Do I not block the Eternal and thereby allow casting (or a bluff of casting) Sway (again), or should I instead block and take a loss even with Angel's Grace in hand?"

    Forcing opponents to decided between an indefinite continuation of the game (or bluff thereof) and conceding is both the trollish charm and theory-interesting bit of this particular concoction :)
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Another fascinating deck. These wild concepts continue to be impressive in their innovation and bizarre goals.

    On the topic of Shahrazad, I'm always inclined to note some of the odd and, in my view, regrettable history surrounding the card...

    Shahrazad was included on the original pre-format ban list for Magic in 1994. But that list was haphazard even by later WotC standards. It was unbanned in 1999 along with Divine Intervention (a card that would seem to be right up your alley except that perhaps it's too straightforward?) and while such horrifying cards as Ivory Tower and Underworld Dreams were unrestricted, released to commence a reign of terror in tournaments with their, OK, OK, none of the cards set free actually did anything. They were banned/restricted list chaff, trimmed from the list in 1999 because the Urza's Block combo-fest had caused the list to grow to much larger proportions.

    For the next eight years, Shahrazad proceeded to affect tournament gameplay not one iota. Digging up old search results does show a few Legacy and Vintage decks that ran one copy of the card in 2005 and 2006, but mostly in the sideboard and these were small (European) tournaments and card inclusions from around that time were especially variant. I remember seeing an old combo decklist that ran Tarpan in its sideboard just because the player wasn't interested in ever using sideboard slots 14 and 15. As for actual accounts of the card being used? None I'm aware of. The card was a complete non-issue, every bit as much as Divine Intervention. No tournament presence at all. What it did get, circa 2006 or 2007 but I forget when it first started, was some theoretical online message board discussion regarding two possible cases...
    1. In Legacy, the idea was floated that one could construct a red/white Burn deck with Shahrazad. Such a deck would be linear and efficient, so once it started a subgame against an opponent who had been playing card selection and building toward something, the subgame would favor the linear, aggressive deck. If the opponent still got the upper hand, it would be possible to draw and cast a second Shahrazad, attempting to gain an advantage by nesting subgames. Ultimately, opponents would probably either concede the subgame and take a big hit or would lose the subgame and suffer the same. The card would be useless against faster aggro decks and would be sided out, but could be dangerous to midrange and control opponents. Again, all of this was talk and none of it was real tournament results. People on Legacy message boards, to this day, come up with novel concoctions that have almost no chance of becoming established decks. All evidence pointed to this Sharazad idea as being such a concept.
    2. In Vintage, rather than hoping to win subgames and use the card to make opponents lose life, the card was raised as a possible sideboard strategy to draw matches due to time constraints. So in this example, I'd have a fast deck, probably a combo deck. I'd win my first game, but then my opponent would sideboard in hate cards to stop me. Since I'd be up one game but unfavored to win the post-board games, I'd side in Shahrazad and attempt to stall by nesting subgames. This would force my opponents to either try to win the subgames and kill me before the time clock on the tournament round ran out (at which point I'd win the match on account of having the only game win), or to concede the subgames and hope to kill me in the main game, but they'd be vulnerable due to life loss from Shahrazad and therefore easier for me to kill. Most discussion of this approach was centered not around making a viable deck out of it, but rather focused on the concern that someone, somewhere, might do this and that it would be mean and unsportsmanlike. Not to get too repetitive, but I observed no record of this ever happening in a real tournament. It was online message board chatter.
    Curiously, both of these separate topics seemed to come up in 2007 or so (might have been 2006, but couldn't have been much earlier than that). I assume that one idea sparked the other, but I do not know which came first. Ultimately, both were idle speculation. We cannot say, for certain, what might have happened if the card had never been banned, but I personally doubt that anything would have changed. At the time, few people paid attention to such discussions anyway and I assumed that it was not going to amount to anything.

    And then something crazy happened. WotC had made the (commendable) decision to rethink their approach to card errata as a balancing tool. To this day, a few cards have very clumsy rules text to make them work the way WotC would like them to work under current rules because they think the cards would be inappropriate if function the way that their original text would make it seem. Lotus Vale is a prime example of that. But for most cards, the new policy was to get rid of "power-level errata." Cards, where feasible, were no longer supposed to have Oracle text meant to change their functionality to something weaker than what their printed text had been. The most famous such "nerfed" cards were the "free" blue cards from Urza's Block. In 1998, Great Whale had produced a dominant Standard combo deck with Recurring Nightmare, and WotC used errata to make the cards only untap lands when played from one's hand. Iridescent Drake, one of my own pet cards, was hit by this as well. It looked like it had the same kind of EtB ability that other creatures might have, but its ability, from 1999 to 2006, came with the a rider that it only worked if the card was played from the player's hand. Rescinding power-level errata simplified things and made some old cards like Karmic Guide and Phyrexian Dreadnought viable again. But it did not directly affect Shahrazad, which was working as intended with its own special section built into the Comprehensive Rules. But then, quietly, an obscure card lost its power-level erratum...
    When Flash was printed in 1996, there weren't a lot of good targets for it anyway. It was reprinted in Sixth Edition and subsequently hit by one of the waves of power-level errata. So it wasn't on most players' radar in 2007 when it suddenly turned into "put that Protean Hulk from your hand out and then it dies and you get its ability to trigger." The resulting deck dominated Legacy and caused considerable panic surrounding old cards and the banned list. WotC shut it down in June of 2007. But speculative discussions regarding exploitative use of Shahrazad were abuzz around that time. WotC also started finally curating the Legacy banned list, unbanning cards for the first time since they created the format. It was also around this time that Vintage started getting more unrestrictions.

    So, within a pretty narrow window of time an obscure old card wreaked havoc in tournaments out of nowhere, there were visible internet discussions about another old card being a possible problem, and WotC finally started paying real attention to Eternal formats. The timing was just right. I'm guessing that at least one longtime WotC employee had an axe to grind against Shahrazad, but in any case, the card was banned and the change was sold to the public as "the cards banned in Vintage are now the ante cards, the manual dexterity cards, and the subgame cards, which is easy to remember" or something. A logistical concern was also noted in the explanation, that subgames would make tournaments need more table space to preserve the game state in the paused main game. I'm a casual player, so I'm biased. I can't speak to how tournament organizers felt on this issue and I shouldn't try to judge. But I'll note that I can (and do) store my ongoing CPA forum games using the same number of square inches as one Magic card. I do this by stacking the cards for each zone on top of each other, face-up vs. face-down and oriented facing top-forward vs. top-backward (so library is face-down, then battlefield is face-up on top of it, then hand is face-down on top of that, then graveyard is face-up on top of that, then exile is face-down on top of that, and if one of those zones is empty, I flip the next pile upside-down to mark the presence of an empty zone). I don't see the problem myself, but perhaps tournaments would have issues with people cheating or something.

    I was opposed to the Shahrazad ban and I still am, but it's definitely not the hill I'm dying on. The principle that got the card banned (concern about a hypothetical issue in the absence of real results) makes me wary, but the card itself isn't important to me and I have no desire to build a Legacy or Vintage deck with it. I don't think it's a big deal. Mostly, I just like the artist, Kaja Foglio.

    But unless there's some WotC employee who's all, "Grr, I hate subgames" the specifics of a logistical concern strike me as odd. Shahrazad certainly isn't the only card that could cause a logistical concern, especially one related to match time. Dragon decks in Vintage and the old Type 1.5 could and did force numerous game draws. ProsBloom could have done it too (although in the Standard environment at that time, it wasn't likely to need to do this). Divine Intervention exists explicitly to draw games. Karn Liberated resets games. And you've demonstrated what Sway of the Stars can potentially do.

    I consider Shahrazad to be an unfortunate victim of circumstances.
    Psarketos likes this.
  4. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    I have never seen Divine Intervention before - it is a great card. The name reminded me of Dimensional Breach, which led me to the realization that my fascination for that card years ago probably led indirectly to me building Abolisher :)
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Oh, and on the topic of the original Shahrazad, I forgot to mention that while the aggressive decks using it as a sort of burn spell never actually became a thing in Legacy, the card does have that function in Old School Magic.

    Not really applicable to your Modern deck, as Sway of the Stars doesn't work that way. Still pretty cool, I think.
    Psarketos likes this.

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